3-4 or 4-3?

Daniel Marcus

Prior to the season, Rex Ryan proclaimed himself the “best defensive coach in football,” bravado aside I tend to agree with him but by that same token, he is no miracle worker. Rex’s defensive scheme is technically a 3-4 but you don’t always see the base front on the field. The scheme that the Jets employ is extremely adaptable, where you will see a player at three or four positions in the matter of a few plays regardless of what their “official” position is.  However, at its essence it’s still a 3-4 and as such you would figure that the Jets would be drafting players that fit the scheme but in large part that has been far from the truth.

Arguably the two most crucial positions in a 3-4 defense are the nose tackle and the outside linebackers but over the course of Rex’s tenure as Jets head coach, the defense has lacked the prototypical players at those positions. Sione Po’uha has been more than solid in the middle and is among the best in the league against the run but he does not truly fit the mold of the Vince Wilforks, Haloti Ngatas, and Casey Hamptons of the world. However, the real problem spot has been at the Outside Linebacker positions because as we all know, the Jets inability to generate problems when it comes to generating a conventional pass-rush have been well documented. Oh and where does a pass-rush usually come from in a 3-4? *ding, ding, ding* That’s right, from the outside linebackers.

With all due respect to Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, the Jets have not had an outside linebacker with any pure pass-rushing ability in terms of speed, strength, and moves a la DeMarcus Ware. Pace and Thomas are big, lumbering, and stout against the run but there is no way they should be starting in a Rex Ryan defense, regardless of how adaptable and creative he is when it comes to drawing up a defense. Knowing this, it makes you wonder why the Jets haven’t drafted an outside linebacker over the course of Rex Ryan’s four-year tenure, given Thomas and Pace’s obvious short-comings and a serious lack of depth at the position.

Instead the Jets brass has opted to draft defensive linemen and although I can justify the Wilkerson pick after the departure of Shaun Ellis, it makes you wonder why they went with another defensive lineman this year in Quinton Coples. As we have already established, a conventional pass-rush comes primarily from the outside linebacker position, so it would make sense to draft one.

The Jets are drafting more like a 4-3 team, with all the picks they have expended on defensive linemen over the past few years. Although I think Wilkerson and Coples will be productive players, they play less-than-glamorous positions in this defensive system, doing a lot of the dirty work by occupying and engaging blockers. If they want to draft like the Giants, they should adapt the scheme accordingly. If not I would expect this year’s first-round pick to be a pass-rushing, stand-up, outside linebacker. I have it on good authority that the Jets don’t select pieces that fit Rex’s scheme, instead they pick players in the hopes that he will somehow make them fit.

Another wrinkle to the whole 3-4/4-3 dichotomy is the fact that the Jets went out and hired Karl Dunbar to be the defensive line coach this off-season. Thus far Dunbar has been met by rave reviews from players and coaches alike but perhaps he was not the ideal fit given that he comes from a 4-3 background. This is just another example of the defense lacking a real identity because of the personnel on the field and on the coaching staff. Sure, he’s an upgrade over Mark Carrier, who ironically enough never actually played defensive line but the results still are not there even with Dunbar.

Admittedly there’s a lot of variables at play here but the point is that Rex has been playing without a full deck as far as the front seven goes, which makes the job he’s done with the defense the past three seasons all the more impressive. If you are of the opinion that he should face the proverbial firing squad maybe you should take a step back and realize the amount of coaching he has done to this team over the years. To borrow a “Parcellsism,” Rex has done an “Iron Chef-esque” job of cooking the dinner even though it doesn’t appear as though he’s had much say in buying the groceries.